Fr. Marcel Divine Emeka Okwara CSsR
As a little boy growing up in Dikenafai, a village of Nigeria, my favorite TV program was Tales by Moonlight which was shown on NTA. It was a program that I and some of my peers yearned to watch. And when there is no electricity to watch it, we greatly missed it. For those who still remember this program, it was a story telling one through which ancient stories involving the ever cunning Tortoise, the king of the jungle- Lions and other animals were used to represent the Nigerian and African values, morality, norms and commendable behaviors of our society. It was a very simple program that was designed to teach the young and probably the disappointing adults that which the voice men condemn and uphold. Through Tales by Moonlight, we learnt about the virtues of respect and obedience to our parents and elders. We learnt good manners, love for the other, honesty and trustworthiness, maintenance of peace and being assiduous with one’s studies or training as an apprentice. Through the program, we learnt that every action has a corresponding consequence. If you sow good, you will reap good, and if you sow bad or evil, you will reap evil. Tales by Moonlight promoted African values, moral sanity, healthy living, love and decent lifestyle. It promotes generally, the African virtues- which is our way of life.
But a critical look at the society today, a look at the “signs of times” easily suggests a gradual disappearance of these values. Everybody is moaning and grieving about the emerging morally decadent age. From the traditional rulers, religious leaders, preachers of Christian message, parents, teachers, to political leaders, everybody is lamenting over the emerging atrocities of this age. And our world has been variously described by many experts as the most rash and hostile world. Others describe it as a very wicked world, a perilous world and a wicked generation.
All the unspeakable descriptions of the world are not targeted to the geographical space called the earth. When we say ‘it is a wicked world, a perilous world, a harsh and immoral world, a wicked world’, we are not talking about the planet earth. We are talking and describing about the people who live on it; we are passing judgment on human beings created in God’s image and likeness. We are describing ourselves, God’s reflection of himself. Everybody is shedding tears about the trend of things in our world today. The older generations are greatly concerned about the future of their children. An elderly woman once complained, “Fr. I am very scared! The future seems to be bleak.” She is worried and troubled by the direction the nowadays generation is taking.
The issue here is moral decadence in our society. What then is moral decadence? Simply speaking, moral decadence is a flight from moral virtues. And moral virtues according to St. Thomas Aquinas are good habits which incline and allow their possessors to make good moral choices. And without virtue, argues Bernard Haring, “everything is hollow and dull. Indeed, without virtue, men and women are good for nothing and public dangers.”
Moral decadence is the corruption of moral consciousness. Moral decadence is a flight from fides et ratio (faith and reason). It is attitudes that disregard the Christian theological and moral virtues and in many dimensions debase mankind. For the morally decadent, nothing is condemnable, and nothing is evil; nothing seems atrocious. A morally decadent society upholds the philosophy of “anything goes”.
Several factors contribute to the moral decay evident in our society. One of the factors is secular humanism. Whatever else is responsible for moral vacuity, this movement called secular humanism is the most culpable for most of the moral crisis plaguing our society. Simply speaking, secular humanism is a worldview. It is a non-religious worldview that stresses human values without any reference to God or religion or spirituality. Theologically, secular humanists are atheists. According to them, there is no God. God does not exist; he has never existed, and would not exist. For humanist Paul Kurtz, representing other humanists argues “humanism cannot in any fair sense of the word apply to one who still believes in God as the source and creator of the universe.” They believe that instead of God or gods creating the cosmos, the cosmos, in the individualized form of human beings giving rein to their imagination, created the gods or God. In other words, God did not create; rather he was created by human beings. The only thing that exists therefore is nature; the material world is all that exists. There is no God, no spiritual dimension, and no afterlife. The universe, they stress, is all that is or ever was or will ever be. Human life according to them is as result of a purely natural phenomenon. Man, his body, his mind and his soul were not supernaturally created but are all products of evolution.
The atheism of secular humanism leads most of them to adopt ethical relativism. Ethical relativism is the belief that there is no absolute moral code; therefore man must adjust his ethical standards in each situation according to his own judgment. Morality is not discovered, it is made. Ethical relativism says there is no moral right and no moral wrong. In other words, nothing is praiseworthy and nothing is condemnable. No human action should be commended, and no human action should be blamed or condemned, because its right and wrong are based on social norms. What is considered as wrong in one place might be seen as right somewhere else. And what is considered wrong today might be upheld as right tomorrow. Therefore, no human action should be judged.
Just like every other dangerous teachings, the teachings of secular humanism spread like wild-fire. Through articles mostly found on the internet, Magazines, Newspapers, etc, they spread their message. They also organize seminars, lectures, conferences and talks. And through this avenue, they confuse the society especially the young people. They want the world to believe that no matter what we do, it is acceptable as long as it makes us feel good. They ask us not to be judgmental. Don’t judge your feelings. Obey your passions and emotions. Follow your feelings. If you feel like having sex, any form of sex, go ahead and do it. And do not judge whether it is wrong or right. As long as you feel cool doing it, go ahead. If you feel cool getting married to another person of same sex, it is in order, after all, that is how you feel.
The teaching of “do not be judgmental” is the reason why all forms of despicable acts are committed around the globe especially in Europe and North America. Sexual perversion is becoming so pervasive in our reprobate society, that one must be very careful about what he sees or hears. The degraded, dissolute occupants of the sodomite world are no longer in their hiding caves. They have come out from their closets with a raucous and unashamed insistence that decent, moral people accept them as being normal. Look at how in Europe and North America, those in positions of authority tolerate homosexuality and homosexuals and even make laws accommodating their disgusting and unholy unions. The biblical teaching that says “from the beginning, God made them male and female” is regarded as a fable from a mindless religion. Note that they are now even receiving the protection of law in many venues as if they were a minority class of citizens that has experienced discrimination. And those who speak out against these perversions are attacked ad hominem as homophobes, hate-mongers and intolerant.
The central message of secular humanism is secularism. And of course, secularism leads to loss of sense of the sacred, loss of sense of God, loss of sense of morality, loss of sense of moral sanity, loss of sense of shame. It leads to moral anarchy, moral vacuity and moral decadence. Secularism leads to loss of sense of moral excellence. Anything can be done as long as it is cool for the individual. As a result of this, people even have sexual relationship with animals, and even with the dead.
Another factor responsible for moral decadence is the apparent absence of role models. In times past, there were prophets who act as the conscience of the people; there were martyrs who died for their beliefs; there were virgins who died protecting their virginity. In times past, there were honest elders. In those days there were honest leaders- both in small communities, and in the society at large. In those days, there were preachers of the message of Christ. In those days, there were so many honest and straightforward parents. In those days, there were assiduous teachers in schools either in the primary schools, secondary schools or in the university. In those days, there were Amos, Jeremiah, Hosea, Isaiah etc. In those days, there were Archbishop Oscar Romero of El-Salvador; there were Martin Luther King Jn. In those days, there were highly moral traditional rulers. In those days, there were healthy families. But the question today is “Where are the prophets”? By prophet, I don’t mean the prophets of the Bible alone. By prophets I mean speakers of the truth. I mean those the younger generation can look up to and learn virtuous living. The absence of role models in our modern society once made the Lagos based legal luminary, Gani Fawehimi to say “I will never respect any traditional ruler in Yoruba land, because they have deposited their crowns in the shrine of money.” The same can also be said of other traditional rulers in other parts of the county. If the traditional rulers, the custodian of customs and values are so morally deficient as not to deserve Gani Fawehimi’s respect, then the future is bleak. Where will the younger generations learn righteousness and upright living? If the leaders are morally bad, then from where will the led learn decent living? The Igbo aphorism that says, “An elder does not stay at home and watch a goat tied to a stake suffocates to death” is no longer the case. Today many elders are watching as many needy ‘goats’ die unassisted. Come to think of it, who are the elders? Do we still have elders today in our society? Who are those encouraging the youths to take the shortcuts to riches? The elders encourage the young people to acquire riches by any means by conferment of chieftaincy titles to public crooks and land grabbers. In my community, a particular rogue known to everyone became wealthy overnight. And in order to gain relevance, he went to another community, bought his way through, and was given a chieftaincy title. All that matters today is wealth. Nobody questions the source of wealth. A young lady can return home with an expensive car or cars from her sojourn in Italy or elsewhere in Europe. And her homecoming will be lavishly celebrated by all and sundry. Of course nobody is interested in what she does for a living. It is a known fact that a good number of our girls are into prostitution, drug trafficking and other forms of wild living. But as long as she is bringing hard currency, it is alright. Even some parents are selling their valuables like lands and houses just to sponsor their daughter or daughters abroad. If there is no money to send their daughters to school, there will be money to send her to Italy or any other part of the world. With no good education and trade, what do people think these girls do abroad? Again, in time past, there were honest parents, godly parents, and virtuous parents.
Hard work or the virtue of industry is no longer appreciated by many young people; they prefer shortcuts to becoming rich. Everybody- leaders, parents, preachers, teachers, traditional and religious leaders, political leaders etc are all racing towards the so called ‘Trend of Time.’ In the Tertiary institutions, professors and teachers ought to be role models to the students, but some of them are disappointedly showing them how to be corrupt, how to be morally deficient. Some teachers demand sex from some female students before they can pass whatever subjects they teach. The male students are not left out; some are asked for monetary compensation to pass a paper, thereby teaching them that the shortcut to success is not only thinkable but also possible. Some students kill themselves for worldly reasons. Of course, the issue of student-prostitution is longer a news. The virtue of chastity is considered today as archaic, obscure and impossible. The issue of rape, stealing, child-trafficking, bribery and corruption is on the increase.
If our society is short of role models, then good examples will also not abound. Role models show good examples. And when role models are lacking, good examples will also be lacking. From head to toe, the system appears to be dirty, unkempt, and grossly corrupt and messed up. There is moral decadence in every sector of our life. Anything and everything seems possible. Nothing is considered an eye-sour again. In the midst of all these, some conclude that the end-time is very close at hand. Some even argue that nothing can be done to remedy this situation. But as a man of God, I believe there is a way out. Something can be done to remedy the society and human life from moral crisis.

As a Catholic Priest, I want to remind my fellow workers in the Kingdom- Bishops, Priests, and Deacons that as chief guardians of religion and the chief dispensers of what pertain to the Church; we cannot possibly keep silent in the face of moral vacuity that is gravely threatening human life and society; because by keeping silence we will be neglecting the duty incumbent on us. The prophetic task of the Church calls us to action. As men of God, working for the ‘enthronement and expansion’ of the kingdom, we are to challenge everyone including ourselves to pay attention to his sanctuary (conscience) where God speaks to us “do good and avoid evil.” We are to challenge God’s people to wake up and live out the true meaning of their dignity and origin.
We should be the voice of the prophets, a vehicle through which God speaks to the community and to the world. We should become contemporary prophets, a voice that has to emerge from the society in which we live; a voice that must call all men and women to be what God has meant them to be in a world burdened by moral crisis and inordinate ambitions. As we preach from different pulpits, let our voice compel the people to listen because we are addressing a reality that is urgent. We must become prophets! It is our duty in history to lend our voices to Christ so that he may speak, to lend our feet to Christ so that he may walk today’s world, and to lend our hands to him to build the reign of God. The tough mission that Christ has given us is to uproot evils from history, to uproot sins from the political order, to uproot sins from the economy, to uproot immorality from the society and wherever they are.
As we passionately preach the word of God from our different Churches, we should not be too comfortable, too intimidated, and too timid to name these morally decadent behaviors. Our preaching should make evil doers feel bad and remorseful for their evil deeds. Our preaching should be able to bring about conversion and change of lifestyles. And as we preach we should not be afraid of persecution.
We should not allow ourselves to be caught up by this immoral web. The Church, the society and the world are in dire need of role models. We should be able to practice what we preach. By the way we live; we should be able to convince people that it is possible to live above the standard of the society. Both our preaching and our lifestyle should be prophetic and life-changing.
I have so far been addressing my fellow workers in the Lord’s vineyard. But the onus of changing our society does not lie in their hands alone. Every Christian, every human being is saddled with the task of transforming our world because we all live in it. The task of bringing about a meaningful change in our world should begin in the family. The family is the domestic Church where moral, religious and cultural values should be inculcated in the life of the young ones. To be able to do this, parents, guardians and upright elders of the community should do everything possible to teach and encourage the younger ones of the importance of virtuous living. The society is in danger today because the family life is in shambles. Many children grow up without knowing who their fathers are; some grow up with morally underprovided mothers who only drink, smoke, and invite different men to spend the night with them. Again, Bishops, Priests, Deacons, Religious men and women, Catechists, Seminarians etc. should be in the forefront of repairing the damages already done, and educating our people on how to live decent lives.
In our schools and colleges, moral lesson should be re-introduced, and if possible be made a compulsory subject. Real efforts should be made to balance academic excellence and moral uprightness. A concerned mother here in USA told me that she has consistently told her 14 year old daughter that academic excellence minus virtuous lifestyle is absolutely nonsense. That should be the approach today in all our schools, at all levels.
To those who engage in all sorts of immoral behaviors because of hardship, the Church should repeatedly tell them that possession of wealth and material goods is of no importance for eternal life. They should also be reminded that there is no disgrace in poverty, and that the “true dignity and excellence in men reside in moral living, that is in virtue.” In doing this, the Church should constantly remind the political leaders of the long consequences of not improving the quality of life of its citizens; by failing to create job opportunities, adequate housing scheme, and other social amenities, people suffer untold and unspeakable hardship which in turn ‘force’ some people into taking short-cuts to survival. The Justice, Development and Peace Commission (JDPC) should become more gospel oriented, more prophetic, more active and more powerful in this regard.
To save the Nigerian society from sliding into moral anarchy which is obviously responsible for all the evils and crimes in the society, the Church which has always been the “voice crying in the wilderness” should cry even louder now than ever. The Church should seek new ways to educate the people by her teaching and forms them by her discipline. The Church’s hierarchy in Nigeria should become more charismatic, more prophetic, more eloquent and more exemplary in proclaiming the Gospel of Jesus Christ. If the society is to be saved and healed now, in no other way can it be healed and saved save by a return to Christian life and Christian institutions. “Whoever is thirsty”, says Jesus Christ, “let him come to me and drink.” In our dryness- moral dryness, spiritual dryness, social dryness, psychological and emotional dryness, a return to Jesus Christ, the Lord of life and Prince of peace becomes inevitable.

Note: This article of mine has already been published in a Magazine Pentiful Redemption of the students of the Congregation of the Most Holy Redeemer, Nigerian Vice-Province.


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Anonymous said...

Nice question,what causes this moral decadence?

Anonymous said...

What can we do to do away with moral decadence?